Tell EPA: Stop Dangerous Radioactive Drinking Water‏

Updated 3 years ago Edited from a Press Release
Tell EPA: Stop Dangerous Radioactive Drinking Water‏

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing so-called “Protective Action Guides” for Drinking Water (Water PAGs) that will actually increase the danger to the public.



Enormous levels of invisible but deadly radioactive contamination would be permitted in drinking water for weeks, months or even years after a nuclear accident or “incident.”

EPA is recommending allowable radiation levels hundreds and thousands of times higher than currently allowed in drinking water and at cleaned-up Superfund sites. Outrageously, EPA is expanding the kinds of radioactive incidents that would be allowed to give off these dangerously high levels and doses.

PAGs originally applied to huge nuclear disasters like the nuclear power meltdowns at Fukushima or a dirty bomb BUT NOW they could ALSO apply to less dramatic releases from nuclear power reactors or radio-pharmaceutical spills, nuclear transport accidents, fires or any radioactive “incident” …that “warrant[s] consideration of protective action.”

This is a deceptive way to circumvent the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund cleanup levels, and EPA’s history of limiting the allowable risk of cancer to 1 in a million people exposed, or at most 1 in 10,000 in worst-case scenarios. The PAGs protect the polluters from liability, not the public from radiation.

You can find more information about the EPA's proposal by following the action link above, and don't hesitate to contact NIRS. You can also find background information on the dangers of radiation and the PAGs on NIRS's website.

The Water PAGs would allow radioactivity comparable to 250 chest X-rays per person per year just from drinking water, but it would actually be worse because ingesting radioactive materials through water causes them to lodge in organs, continually irradiating from within.

Also, the Water PAGs are not for the immediate “early” emergency phase when the incident is occurring or just afterward. They are for the “intermediate phase,” in which people would be allowed to drink the water for weeks, months or even years.

The Numbers: The current maximum radioactive concentration levels (MCLs) in drinking water are based on a 4 millirem/year dose which must not be exceeded; most water is way below the MCLs. The Water PAGs would let drinking water be contaminated up to 500 millirems/year. (“Millirems” are a calculation of dose.) EPA proposes limiting pregnant and nursing women and children to 100 millirem/year, but even this is far too high. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) projects that radiation exposures of 100 millirem/year cause 1 person to die of cancer for every 286 exposed. However, women and children are at much higher risk from radiation exposure than the adult males assumed in NRC's estimates.

This radioactive water PAG is being added to PAGs proposed for food and air in 2013. In addition to the 500 millirems in drinking water, people could be exposed to 500 millirems/year from radioactive food and 2,000 millirem more for the first year and 500 millirem/year after that from the air we breathe and from direct gamma rays emitted from the radioactive materials. (Page 7 Table 1-1 of the
2013 PAGs)

Internal EPA documents on the PAGs, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that some Water PAG radiation levels could be so high that a person could get their whole 70-year lifetime dose allowed under existing regulations (Page 3 of this
FOIA document) by drinking just one small glass of water contaminated at the proposed PAG levels (depending on which radioactive contaminant is in the water).

Key Documents:

The EPA's PAG webpage: https://www.epa.gov/radiation/protective-action-guides-pags

Water PAG Proposal: https://www.regulations.gov/contentStreamer?documentId=EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0268-0211&disposition=attachment&contentType=pdf

FOIA documents:

Analysis of proposal when Bush Administration tried it:
http://www.committeetobridgethegap.org/pdf/PAGreport102208.pdf

Letter to OMB opposing EPA proposal:
http://committeetobridgethegap.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Group-Letter-to-OMB-re-Water-PAGs-12-22-15.pdf

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